Derry teacher calls for reform over lack of opportunities

Teachers who qualified in the last ten years are finding it extremely difficult to find any permanent posts.
Teachers who qualified in the last ten years are finding it extremely difficult to find any permanent posts.
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An experienced Derry teacher who has applied for around 100 permanent jobs without success has called for a re-think on current government proposals to tackle the lack of opportunities in the sector.

Carmel McCauley (33) said there were thousands of teachers who have been left ‘in limbo’ because the recession brought expenditure cuts and recruitment freezes that left many talented young teachers out in the cold with any hope of a permanent job.

Mrs McCauley qualified in 2006 from Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln with the HAYS Education Award for Outstanding Achievement on Placement, after completing an Early Years Degree at Stranmillis.

Yet despite having great extensive experience as a substitute teacher for prolonged periods for most of the past ten years, Mrs McCauley has been unable to secure a permanent post.

Education Minister John O’Dowd recently announced plans to introduce new measures that will allow 500 teachers aged 55 and above to retire early and to be replaced by teachers who are qualified three years and under.

However, this would exclude teachers like Mrs McCauley from applying for the new permanent posts and she and thousands of others in the same position have now signed a petition calling on the Minister to address this issue.

For me teaching is a vocation, and for a lot of people teaching is a vocation. It is something I have wanted since Primary 1, and I literally have a piece of paper from when I was seven years of age saying I wanted to a P1, P2 or P3 teacher.

Teacher Carmel McCauley

After finishing her studies in England, Mrs McCauley moved back to Derry, where she had previously bought a house.

“Then I came into the big bad world of work,” she said. “I came home to get married, I did a couple of days subbing and they gave me three-month sick leave placement and then from that same school I got a maternity cover.

“I then did three years in another school subbing, then I did another year in a nursery doing maternity cover.

“Throughout this whole time I was applying for around 10 jobs a year and interviewed an average of three times a year. ‘Dear John’ is a name I’m very familiar with. It’s a running joke in the house.”

However constant rejection for Carmel and thousands of other qualified teachers does take its toll on morale.

“You start to doubt yourself, although you know you do your best. And I have been very fortunate with the people I have worked with.

“For me teaching is a vocation, and for a lot of people teaching is a vocation. It is something I have wanted since Primary 1, and I literally have a piece of paper from when I was seven years of age saying I wanted to a P1, P2 or P3 teacher.

“I’ve been reflecting on it lately, on ‘why?’ and you think wrong place, wrong time. The recession hit when a lot of us came along, but there were other things as well. There just wasn’t the same positions for us to apply for; job opportunities weren’t as rife.

“Class sizes were getting bigger too as teachers left and maybe weren’t replaced. A class of 24 might have gone up to 31.

“We were in that vicious circle of less jobs and people with more experience getting a job.”

During this period Carmel had two daughters of her own and said the demands of subbing does have an impact on family life.

“I went back to work when my daughter was 12-weeks-old, because I didn’t have that security and I couldn’t risk losing it, which was exceptionally hard.

“Your family time is also affected because you are filling out applications, preparing for interviews. Your children are not getting the time you want them to have.”

Mrs McCauley stressed that her own situation was not unique.

She added that she thinks it is brilliant that teachers will be able to retire early - if that is what they choose themselves.

“What we are saying is, with 10 years’ experience we are mot better than the more recent teacher graduates, but you develop over the years and it should be equal opportunities. I would like the new measures to be inclusive.

“We teach children to respect and value learning and yet those who are teaching them are being punished for it. “If we feel valued we pass that on to the children.”

The Change.org online petition has been started by a new group called ‘N.Ireland Teachers Campaigning for Experience Equality’.

Their petition, aimed at Education Minister John O’Dowd, states: “While this sounds good his criteria for filling the permanent jobs requires schools to replace the member of staff with a newly qualified teacher, or one who has graduated within the past three years.

“This sees experienced, dedicated teachers who have not had job security, a sense of self worth or steady income denied the chance to even apply. We want Mr O’Dowd to see that we live in a fair society where equality of opportunity is granted to all teachers.”

Since it began the petition has been signed 3,500 times.

Comments from signatories of the petition include: “I’ve been teaching ten years, most of that time in one school. If the scheme goes ahead as proposed I would be denied a permanent job in a school I’ve worked in for years. It’s not fair and it’s not right.”

Another person wrote: “I just hope and pray that the future for us teachers isn’t as bleak as what it appears to be, that hopefully this petition would make someone in the powers that be wake up and see that we have just as much right as those who are newly qualified at these jobs.

“We have worked tirelessly for the education system in Northern Ireland since we graduated and this is the thanks we get.”